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Increase in COVID-19 cases could once again delay return to school for La Crosse students

Kaitlyn Riley

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La Crosse School District Superintendent Dr. Aaron Engel said the district may have to extend virtual learning with rapidly deteriorating COVID-19 conditions in La Crosse County.

Just last week, the district announced it would reopen elementary schools on Oct. 26. That was based on almost three weeks of data indicating a decline in COVID-19 cases and an average 7-day rate of 26.9 cases per 100,000 community members, which was close to the goal of 25.

“At this point, we have let the advice of experts and science guide us into fighting accepting risk,” Engel said during a meeting Monday. “Despite our interest in reopening elementary schools, we’ve seen cases increase at the end of last week, and we’ve seen a high rate of 59 today [Monday].”

Statewide, the system was shut down over the weekend for updates, so there is no reporting yet for Saturday and Sunday, though La Crosse County had increased by 99 cases from Friday to Monday, and a fifth person in the past five days had died from the virus.

“We’re a little afraid that the numbers may be just as high as they were late last week and early this week,” Engel said. “We may have to extend virtual learning. This is not a course of action we want to take.”

Engel said the district should have more information about what action to take when the state resumes reporting cases Tuesday.

“We know uncertainty is incredibly difficult for our families and our teachers,” he said. “We will be investigating this heavily tomorrow and hope to have a decision as soon as possible.”

Engel noted complications that come from shifting gears for food service, transportation and special education services. The district is also in the midst of discussion about co-curricular activities and athletics.

“Activities play an important role in our student’s lives, mental health, connection, and identity,” Engel said. “We’re heavily considering trying to make that happen.”

For families who are concerned about COVID-19 and do not wish to send their kids to school when in-person classes resume, Engel said there are options such as transferring into the Coulee Region Virtual Academy midstream.

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.